A Book’s Unlikely Pairing: Fernando Pessoa and Aircraft Crashes

Yoshiko Yap

By James Hannaham

In this playful and different assortment, the novelist James Hannaham (“Delicious Food items,” “God Suggests No”) can make use of an not likely pairing — the will work of the Portuguese modernist Fernando Pessoa and the record of plane crashes — to pose knotty questions about contemporary everyday living. The jacket copy provides us the lowdown: In December 2016, on a flight from Cape Verde to Lisbon, Hannaham located himself examining Pessoa’s gathered poems. The Trump presidency loomed like negative weather. He experienced also not too long ago develop into captivated by a Television exhibit, “Air Disasters,” which documented well known plane crashes, hijackings and bombings. Hannaham blended these interests and anxieties with his impressions of Lisbon to kind “Pilot Impostor,” a hybrid do the job of tales, essays, poetry, jokes and visual art. It doesn’t all hold together, although its best items possess the improbable coherence of goals.

Pessoa, that terrific, self-proliferating poet, is a valuable antecedent. His alter egos, or “heteronyms,” are on virtually each website page. Their fragmented aphorisms serve as bread crumbs in a forest of varieties. While prepared in little font and hung in unobtrusive corners, they obliquely orient the reader. Pessoa’s line “This species of madness” seems together with “Ghost Aircraft,” a story about a flight with out a pilot. “Countless lives inhabit us,” his heteronym Ricardo Reis proclaims atop the poem “I’m Missing,” a paean to multivalence: “I’m more than one particular. / It’s much too pleasurable for me.” Like Pessoa’s phantom poets, Hannaham’s narrator — or is it narrators? — is elusive, mysterious, humorous, several and a very little ethereal.

He is also indignant. The e-book quietly seethes. America’s racial divides, past and current, animate significantly of the work. “Black Rage” includes a few legitimate-crime miniatures in which Black males, motivated by revenge, hatred or insurance plan cash, have taken above flights and trains. In “Dear White Girl I Practically Hit With My Auto This Morning,” Hannaham, who is Black, employs a crosswalk showdown to advise the issue of charitable comprehension. “Ferdinand Magellan” refashions the Portuguese explorer’s legacy in mocking, profane battle lyrics: “Colonizin’ folks as you was travelin’ / Spreading Christianity’s an infection.”

There are also webpages of seeming nonsense. “On Seeing Pessoa” repeats the poet’s identify amid a series of ahead and again slashes. “Felt” dissolves in its personal syntactic echo chamber: “We experience we have felt felt. We have felt what felt we have. Have felt. Come to feel.” The recursive, algorithmic “Great Weekend” is like a machine making an attempt discussion. An untitled two-website page distribute capabilities alien hieroglyphics scratched into what could be a WordArt template from the 1990s. These juxtapositions of trenchant commentary, menace and absurdism are provocative. Anything like the irreverent, ravaging spirit of Dadaism often attracts in the vicinity of.

Hannaham, who is also a visible artist, takes advantage of photos to anchor or countervail the texts. There are photos of airplane crashes, paintings, flight route readouts, patterned textures and squares he observed in Lisbon, memes, motion picture stills, abstract geometric parts and Google Maps alternatives. Taken together, they build a feeling of mediation and instability. Who and in which we are — historically, culturally, existentially — is generally a negotiable prospect for the creator.

This elasticity in some cases prospects the reserve into thin or unconvincing territory. What exhilarates on a single page disorients on the subsequent. The diverse registers can come to feel haphazard. Trump impersonations rub elbows with hallucinated geographies, gnomic stanzas, error messages and utopian gestures. Who are we in the midst of these types of particles? Hannaham seems to question. What is real? In lieu of responses, the book features a form of anti-catharsis: “We have to are living lifetime ahead and try to make perception of it backward. So we fall short in both of those directions.”

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